Ted Hartwell


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After my first voyage I joined yet another Liberty ship of the same line, sailing mostly to and from Manchester to such Caribbean places as Cuba, Barbados, Curacao, Colombia and Venezuela. Then on through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of the USA and Canada, visiting San Pedro (Los Angeles), San Francisco, Portland, New Westminster, Vancouver and Vancouver Island. On one occasion, we sailed 50 miles up the Sacramento River to a place called Stockton, passing on the way a huge fleet of mothballed Liberty and Victory ships.

My final voyage took me eastward again, through the Suez Canal and down to Australia, taking racehorses as deck cargo. Then we loaded, amongst other things, lead ingots at Port Pirie. Then it was back towards home via Suez again and on into the Black Sea to Odessa before finally arriving home in London. On this last voyage, one of our crew had been paid off and sent to hospital in Australia, suffering from TB. Because of my having had TB as a child the Captain told me I had joined the Merchant Navy under false pretences (I told him I was never asked!) and that I would never be allowed to sail again, so that was the end of my seagoing career.

Having returned from Australia on my last trip, and having met some adoptive relatives and friends there, I wanted to emigrate there. Unfortunately, because National Service was then in force, I couldn't just up and go. As I was living in York at the time and York being a garrison town, I volunteered to join the REME, to learn a trade, a new three-year enlistment scheme having just been introduced. I went for a medical but was rejected in no uncertain terms. Despite this, I still had to undergo another medical for National Service (my being in the Merchant Navy didn't count), and again I was unceremoniously rejected. For a short period I was on the Dole, did some potato picking, worked for a firm of landscape gardeners laying out new gardens for those who could afford it in the Hull and Leeds areas, and finally being employed by York Corporation Parks Department. Very shortly after joining them I fell ill, and was diagnosed as having TB again, this time in my lungs, and was told I would be laid up for at least 18 months!

However, the next four and a half years were then spent incarcerated in two Sanatoria, undergoing major surgery and countless courses of drug treatment, none of which seemed to work and during the course of which I nearly died, my family being sent for. However, I did somehow pull through and eventually went home to my adoptive parents. I then had to spend a year convalescing before being told I ought to start work again. This is where yet another twist in my life occurred.

During the last couple of years in the second Sanatorium one of the nurses brought me a radio hobby magazine to read. I expressed a great deal of disinterest in it at the time, but she pointed out that one could build a small radio set for 5.19s.6d and that she would like one for her Nurses Home room. I said I would have a go provided she bought the tools and then let me keep them, and that she would have to get permission from both the ward Sister and Matron, as I would be flicking solder all over my counterpane! I not only made that first radio but several others, including more complicated ones for visitors. Having witnessed me doing this every day, Matron arranged for me to see the Almoner (Social Worker) who then arranged a correspondence course for me, through the British Council, with EMI Institutes, in basic maths and physics and radio engineering.

So, when told I ought to start work again, I applied to my local education authority for a grant to study formally. They turned me down flat, as I was now 26 and had little formal schooling. However, my adoptive mother had been a headmistress early in life and wasn't one to take "No" for an answer! She told me to take all my marked correspondence course papers along to the LEA and ask to see the top man. This I duly did, and I must have made some sort of impression on him because he arranged for me to study at college for three years. This I did, in Hull and at Southampton, gaining qualifications and letters after my name. Now I had to find job, at 29 and with no experience!

Only three firms were willing to offer me a job, Decca Radar in Surrey, Marconi at Chelmsford and Redifon Flight Simulators in Crawley. The latter two offered me jobs but I chose Crawley for three reasons: first, I would be returning to my birth county Sussex; second, my twin sister was married and living near Tunbridge Wells; and thirdly, because the Crawley job entitled me to a flat, Crawley then being a 'new town' and was doing all it could to encourage skilled workers into the area, so Crawley it was. I spent four years at a firm called Redifon designing electronic parts for flight simulators. However, I realised I wasn't suited to this work, and when in 1963 the BBC started a recruitment drive for Graduate Engineers to staff BBC2 when it opened in 1964, I went along for an interview and was accepted. I worked at BBC Television Centre in Shepherds Bush for 20 years as an engineer in the studios, latterly going on on to doing technical writing. Then at age 53, I applied, and to my great surprise, was accepted as a technical writer cum sub-editor at the BBC Research Department in Surrey, where I spent the last eight years of my nearly twenty-nine years with the Beeb. I retired at the end of 1989 and so have been a 'man of leisure' for the last twelve years now!

Apart from work, my hobbies over the years have included classical guitar playing, drama groups, an amateur operatic society and other choirs, organ playing, being an Adult Literacy Tutor and reading onto tape for the blind.

Unfortunately, bouts of indifferent health have plagued me over recent years, but now in my early 70s I am still reasonably fit. One thing springs to mind as I read what I have written, life's a funny old thing and one can never tell what may be just around the corner!

Ted Hartwell (Summer 2002)